Based on the short story by Stephen King, I admittedly did not have high expectations for "1408", based on the director's previous film - the Jennifer Aniston drama, "Derailed." "1408" stars John Cusack as Mike Enslin, a paranormal investigator who goes around investigating supposedly haunted hotels and writing about them (early on, he goes to a book signing and confirms to one of the few audience members that the best place to find ghosts is at the Haunted Mansion in Orlando.)
He's never seen a ghost yet and remains deeply cynical, so when a note from the Dolphin Hotel in New York City arrives, Mike takes particular notice. There's one room at the hotel - room 1408 - where 56 people have died. When he first calls the hotel, the room is told to be "unavailable" for every date he comes up with. Mike's agent (Tony Shalhoub) uses his lawyer to dig up a random law that says the hotel has to give him the room if it's unavailable.
When Mike finally goes meet the manager of the hotel, he informs him that 56 people have died in the room and that no one has lasted more than an hour. The hotel uses magnetic cards for the rooms, but 1408 has a key because the magnetic cards won't work for it. Mike believes that the manager is "selling a story", just like all the other little hotels that have tried to sell a spook story to gain business. However, much like all other New York City hotels these days, the Dolphin has no trouble getting people in the door.
After going back-and-forth trying to convince him against it, Mike heads into 1408 (which is surprisingly spacious for a New York City hotel room) and finds the scariest thing about it would be the minibar charges - at first. Suddenly, the radio turns on and it appears as if maid service has come through. A painting shifts. But, what really throws Mike is when the radio in the room shifts to 60:00 and starts counting down. When Mike begins to believe is when he finds out that he no longer has the option to leave.
The door will not open, and Mike starts to see increasingly disturbing things - the TV even turns on and plays an old video, showing his ex-wife and the daughter that he lost years ago. He tries to climb out the window and make his way into the next room, and that's when it gets worse. I liked the little touches of the film - the fact that the "You are here" exit procedure sign on the door just shows 1408 with darkness surrounding it.
"1408" is truly Cusack's show and he does a magnificent job, turning in one of his best performances in years as a cynical, butter writer who quickly becomes increasingly paranoid and delusional after entering the room. The few quick supporting performances (Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormick as Cusack's ex-wife) are good, but Cusack gives a fierce effort. The film also manages some great scares (and surprisingly so, given the movie is PG-13), enjoyably creepy atmosphere and some solid twists. Overall, I thought this was one of the best mainstream horror films in recent memory.
The director's cut of the movie runs about 8 minutes longer and the main change is a very different ending. I honestly liked aspects of both endings - the director's cut ending is darker (which makes me wonder if that's the main reason why it wasn't used) and really could have worked fine, as well.
The 2-DVD Special Edition includes a second DVD with the director's cut, commentary and other extras. There is also a single disc edition that includes only the first disc.
VIDEO: "1408" is presented by Genius Products/Weinstein Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is an excellent presentation of the film, as sharpness and detail looked terrific throughout, as fine details like hair and other elements were crisply and clearly presented. Some minor grain was occasionally seen, but I'm guessing this was an intentional element of the cinematography. Some minor edge enhancement was seen on a few occasions, but the majority of the movie in both cuts looked clean and clear. Colors appeared a bit toned-down, but seemed accurately presented, with no smearing or other flaws. Flesh tones looked natural, as well. Overall, the transfer delivers the film well.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was appropriately aggressive during the film's most intense sequences, with creepy sound effects pouring out of the rear speakers. Gabriel Yared's ominous, eerie score also sounds rich and full, surrounding the viewer. Audio quality was terrific, with crisp dialogue and well-recorded effects.
EXTRAS: The 2-DVD edition includes a commentary on the director's cut on the second disc. The commentary is not included with the theatrical cut. The commentary comes from director Mikel Hafstrom and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. The second disc also has a series of short featurettes looking into different aspects of the production ("Production Design", "Physical Effects", "The Director", "The Characters") and 5 deleted scenes with optional commentary. The first disc includes a couple of short "webisode" featurettes and the trailer.
Final Thoughts: "1408" is a very enjoyable, quite creepy horror film with a stellar performance from Cusack. The Special Edition DVD set offers excellent image quality, very good audio and a few interesting extras. Recommended.
The Film B+